HomeOutdoorsNewsGoblin Shark or Plastic Toy? ‘Rare Shark’ Sighting Sparks Debate

Goblin Shark or Plastic Toy? ‘Rare Shark’ Sighting Sparks Debate

by Caitlin Berard
Illustration of a Goblin Shark
(Photo by 3dsam79 via Getty Images)

Scientists who detailed a goblin shark in a scientific journal last year are now retracting their findings after suspicion that the alleged “rare shark” was actually a plastic toy spread like wildfire across social media.

The outlandish saga began in the summer of 2020, when a slender creature with an abnormally long nose washed ashore in Greece. Passersby snapped photos of the unusual fish and sent them to a team of scientists.

Without question, the scientists identified the ghoulish critter as a goblin shark, an incredibly rare deep-sea creature. Typically found at the bottom of the ocean at depths of at least 4,265 feet, to see a goblin shark on shore was a near-impossibility.

To add to their surprise and delight, the juvenile or baby specimen was in remarkably pristine condition. So, even though they never observed or interacted with the shark in person, scientists couldn’t help but run with the exceptional find.

Marine Biologists Poke Major Holes in Alleged Goblin Shark Find

In May 2022, three marine biologists published their findings in the journal Mediterranean Marine Science. In recent months, however, other marine biologists have raised many concerns regarding the authenticity of the find.

First and foremost, they said, the “rare specimen” didn’t even look like a baby goblin shark. The photographed specimen had too few gills, the wrong fins, missing teeth, and appeared oddly stiff. In fact, it suspiciously resembled a plastic toy model of a goblin shark.

Shark expert Dr. David Shiffman posted a picture of the alleged specimen (top photo) next to an actual goblin shark (bottom photo). At first glance, they appear strikingly similar. Upon closer inspection, however, the differences are rather glaring.

In addition to the not-quite-accurate body shape, marine biologists argued that there was no way to verify who found the goblin shark. Was it the man who sent the photos to the researchers in the first place? And if so, who’s to say he didn’t lay a toy on the rocks and snap a picture?

Researchers Retract Shark Findings Altogether

As the controversy swelled, the three original scientists revised their commentary in January, just 8 months after the initial paper. This time, they suggested that the shark was only around seven inches in length. For context, a fully-grown goblin shark is between 10 and 13 feet long.

If that were the case, it would mean the specimen discovered in Greece was nothing more than an embryo. And, well, there are a few problems with this new hypothesis as well.

Goblin sharks have a recorded birth size of at least 30 inches, far larger than the fully formed “embryo” that washed ashore. Not to mention, while it’s not impossible, it’s highly, highly unlikely that an embryo would remain alive long enough to venture all the way from 4,000 feet below the surface to the shore.

Eventually, the weight of the counter-arguments became so heavy that the original scientists retracted their findings altogether on March 20. “The available information was not adequate to support this record based solely on photographic evidence and direct contact between the authors and the citizen,” the retraction said.